Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Keep Always


Keep Always
It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized my parents weren’t going to be around forever.  Oh, I’d been aware of that fact intellectually, of course.  But emotionally?  Practically?  I don’t think I’d given it a great deal of thought on those levels.  But around ten years ago it seemed doctor’s appointments were becoming more of a regular activity for them both and it slowly dawned on me that there was going to be a day, not long off, when I would be presented with decisions and responsibilities unique to the only child, not the least of which was what to do with their large, furniture filled home.
Daddy went first, five years ago. Afterwards, it was clear Mother had no intention of changing anything, or moving anywhere, so when we buried her on New Year’s Eve of last year, the house was as full as ever.  After the funeral, I locked the door with the intention of letting those decisions wait for a good long while.  It had been a difficult year and I thought the luxury of procrastination was one I both needed and deserved.  But each time I visited to check on the house, it seemed to look sadder than the time before and I soon realized this was not something I could put off for too long.  Knowing we were heading on holiday to the UK in May, I wanted to get this emotional chore behind me before we left as I didn’t want it looming up on the horizon as the plane touched down on my return.  The estate sale experts I enlisted told me to just to take the things I wanted and leave the rest to them so the week before leaving town, I tackled the task of gathering together the items that meant the most to me from our family’s house.  
My parents built this house, we are the only ones to ever live here.  My Mother hated change, of any kind, and when they decided to leave our home in the city and build this one further out, she was anxious about it.  So my Father took to sharing his excitement over the building process with me.  Each afternoon I’d wait till he got home from work and together we’d drive the seven or so miles to the site of the new house to check on the progress made that day.  Every nook and cranny was inspected and I could sense Daddy’s pride and joy in watching his new home take shape.  He’d never been much of a gardener before, but soon after we moved in, he became obsessed.  He found he had a knack for garden design and would frequently disappear into the woods behind out house, only to return a few hours later carrying a large poplar or sweet gum seeding over his shoulder.  He’d find the perfect place and proceed to plant these baby trees.  They are towering specimens now.  I would take them with me if I could.
I didn’t go trick or treating in this neighbourhood.  By the time I moved here, I no longer believed in the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.  This was not the house of my childhood.  No, this was the house of my teenage years.  Dates picked me up at this front door. I left for my wedding from here.  The memories are sweet ones and they came flooding back as I walked from room to room trying to decide which items to take and which to leave behind.  Opening one cabinet in the sitting room, I found all the cranberry scented candles my Mother used at Christmas and suddenly I could clearly see her baking fruit cookies on Christmas Eve.  I found my baby clothes.  A lock of my own hair.  Inside a box of old photographs was an envelope with the words, “Keep Always” written across the front in my Mother’s hand.  Inside were the love letters my Father wrote to her before I was born.  He’d made them rhyme.  They are treasures richer than veins of diamonds to me. 
In the end I kept the lamp I was always warned not to knock over every time I ran through the house.  I kept the fine china. I’ll set my Thanksgiving table with it from now on and see their faces sitting there.  I kept the mantle clock that chimed every fifteen minutes of my childhood.  It rings outs from my library now.  In a favourite photograph of my Father and me we are visiting my great aunt at her home in the country and Daddy is sitting in her goose neck rocking chair, with one arm around me, smiling.  The photograph has sat in my bedroom for years.  And now the chair does as well; a continuance, a comfort.
In performing this task I only recently realized would one day be mine,  I discovered it is impossible to predict which items from lives gone will be imbued with memory for those who are left behind.  My Mother’s rolling pin.  My Father’s hats.  Two tiny bells that hung on the Christmas tree.  These are more valuable than paintings or silver.  These are the precious and the prized.  These are the talismans held close as I handed the key over and walked away.

26 comments:

  1. Oh Pamela, I can't imagine. I think the things I want my children to keep are probably not the same things they want. I like to think I'm a magpie, but some might think I tip the scales toward hoarder. I do have a lot of collections and 'stuff', so I have begun giving them things now. I think they will have to do what you did as it seems an insurmountable job to me.

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  2. Lovely post, Pamela...I love your sentimentality for all these memories of life with your parents. All those little things like the clock and the Christmas tree bells....they are indeed precious.

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  3. Beautifully written! I've been through the same with my parents and am in the process of getting my house in order so my sons will have an easier time sorting through it all.
    Isn't it interesting the little things that end up being the most important and loved?
    Betty

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  4. Wonderful thoughts. Thank you for sharing that. N.G.

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  5. It is lovely to pick out some mememtos of your parents and your life together. I have some from my parents too, including a wooden name plate for a desk from where my mom worked during WWII. Something to do with sheet metal for the war effort.
    I am decluttering today, always a good idea, leaves less for the kids to deal with in future :)

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  6. What a charming tribute to such a happy childhood Pamela. These treasures will mean so much to you.
    It would be lovely to see a photograph of your mother too.

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  7. Pamela,
    As an only child, I had to do this same thing about 2 years ago. Mom went first and then my step-dad went one year later. It's funny the things that mean the most to me, they aren't the items I would have guessed I would treasure.
    How lovely to have these things that bring your parents memory flooding back.
    Karen

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  8. Pam, this made my heart so happy as I read it. Brought back so many memories for me too. Please do more about things like this. It shows the sentimental side of you, not just the writers side. Love you.

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  9. The tears started in my eyes as I was reading. Losing one's parents has so many different connotations, It is, in effect, losing part of one's own makeup, the treasury of memories and a great well of love. Life is not about material things but of the love we all share and it is so often the simple little household items that open the doors of our youth and childhood. You were very wise to let the great bulk go, for in the end we have to leave everything behind except the love, that we carry with us on our way.
    I know I have no right to be but I am so proud of you Pamela for the balance of emotion and reason you achieved.

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  10. Having just lost my mother in October, this is now on my mind. Dad is still very healthy and active at 81, but the house in Florida is on my mind. My parents had to deal with two VERY large and packed houses of my grandparents, so, they paired down a lot. It is amazing, though, isn't it, the things that you end up really wanting to keep. I'm finding that some things are very special, and things I thought would be, aren't, really.

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  11. I know how you feel, Pamela, having gone through this with my own parents and my in-laws. You're very brave to turn it over to the auction house. We didn't do that, not enough valuable to do so, I suppose, but what wasn't donated or thrown away we ended up keeping. Now as my husband retires and we prepare to move to our mountain cabin, I'm going through not only my own stuff, but the things I inherited from my parents and grandparents. My sons and daughters-in-law have no interest in things like china, sterling silver, and crystal, and I have little space to store it. So I must find a way of selling the bulk of it, while keeping the few pieces that speak to me and my mother's fine china and silverware to pass on eventually to my granddaughter. (I already gave my grandmother's china to my niece, who was delighted with it.) It's not easy. I had a gooseneck rocker like the one in your picture that was my great aunt's. It sat in my living room for many years then went to my son's apartment. I refinished and reupholstered it before the birth of my first grandchild, and now it sits in his room, where we cuddle and I read him stories before bed every time I visit.

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  12. What a beautiful post Pamela. You brought back an imaginary walk through of my own childhood home. A place I loved but haven't thought of in a long time. I recently bought a little pottery trinket box because my mother used to have the same one next to her bedside when I was a child. Sadly it broke when I was in my teens, but I bought the replacement one as a reminder of mum. It's the only tangible thing I have.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    Much love
    Di
    xxxx

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  13. How difficult, yet, how comforting at the same time these closing up times can be. I am lucky to have a few precious things, Pamela; my grandmother's coffee grinder, which was part of her dowry, the toy banjo my mother and her siblings received, each year, again and again, for Christmas during the Depression. My dad's books. Always keep. You will long treasure the memories, and those lovely letters.

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  14. Well, I sobbed when I read this. My Dad died October 29th last year, and I don't know when the pain goes away. I don't have a blog, there are a few that I love and yours is one of them. I noticed you don't post as much since your Mother died. I've felt like we were grieving together. thank you Pamela.

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  15. Beautifully written Pamela. How we attach ourselves to things because those things are attached to those we love

    Sharon

    xx

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  16. Pamela, Well said, I tried to leave a Country Inn to Renee, at the time she was to young and it was not her Bag.. I have found out after the house was lost to a fire, not to have things own me. You are lucky
    to have a few things for memories.
    I did dig out of the ashes a toaster
    rack owned by my Grandmother from
    Sheffield Eng. You have nice memories.

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  17. Very beautiful Pamela. The things I treasure from my parents are not valuable, but the memories associated with them are priceless. I love your writing.

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  18. Our most precious memories are those we have within and it would seem that you are abundantly rich in those, Pamela...
    What a difficult process... I do dread that... as I know it will be my turn in the not so distant future...
    Beautifully voiced as always... xv

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  19. I understand your feelings about things and how they trigger memories. My parents divorced and married others early in my life and my sister and I were their only children. We were very close to our stepmother and of course, our mom and dad. They are all gone now. My mother died a year ago and we are not finished with going through all her things yet. Letters, journals, and little notes are the hardest. My mom wrote notes to herself because she knew that she was having memory loss issues. Some of those notes concerned my sister and me, some the grandchildren. She died a year and a half ago and it feels like yesterday.

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  20. What a wonderful & very moving post, beautifully written Xx

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  21. What a beautiful, bittersweet post. How we miss our parents. How we miss places.
    This must have been so emotion-filled and upsetting.
    But so good to discover all the evidence of the love of your parents for each other and for you.
    You were quite right to be far away when the auction took place.
    I still have my mother's desk - the one made about 1780 -the one she wrote letters to my father from when he was a prisoner in WW2.
    Furniture takes on more meaning than simply a THING.
    I hope your good memories overwhelm your sense of loss.

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  22. Such a sweet and tender memory. I never had those feelings. Thanks for sharing this other side of how it is.

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  23. This post brought tears to my eyes. Such a sweet, sweet tribute.

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  24. This is such a poignant entry in your wonderful blog and it is so relevant to so many of us with parents who loved us with such passion and now they have gone on...leaving us with the household artifacts of an amazing youth. I am dealing with the same decisions about my own parents house...the place I grew up in. Out of respect I decided to continue their annual vegetable garden. Everything just seems so plentiful this year...the flowers, the vegetable garden, the birds who've built nests in the trees...everything just seems so much more plentiful. Perhaps the nature is honoring their own lives with this symbolic gesture of plenty. Thanks for sharing your life, your love, your emotions with all of us. It is embraced and embraced again.

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  25. Very enjoyable, good to read and start "dreaming". Thanks for sharing that!

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